Sermons & services

All Saints Day

Published Sunday 1st Nov. 2020, at 7:28 p.m.

I don’t ever feel like I am, or have ever been, particularly ambitious. I feel like I’ve always been happy wherever I am, doing what whatever I’m doing. And yet I remember once being at a party and someone asking me what I did for a living. This was in my BBC days. So I said: ‘I’m one of the people who edit the Six O’Clock News on BBC One’. ‘Wow’, they said. ‘An ambitious type’. Which made me think. Well, like I said: I’ve never felt I was particularly ambitious, but I guess I must have had aspirations and ambitions. I suppose I must have wanted to do what I ended up doing. And ambition is not a bad thing. I’m a big fan of Desert Island Discs. Last week I was listening to the episode with Professor Averil Mansfield, one of our leading vascular surgeons, who, in 1993, became the first British woman to be appointed a professor of surgery. She said she had discovered her vocation at eight years old and had never wanted to do anything else. An amazing woman. It’s a good episode! Ambition. It takes different people in all kinds of different directions in life, some good, and some bad. So here’s something to think about. The French philosopher, Leon Bloy, once said this: 'The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.' That should make all of us sit up and take notice. Life isn’t about worldly ambition. Life isn’t about wealth or fame. Life isn’t about privilege or power. Life is about becoming a saint, or it is, ultimately, about nothing at all. And you and I are called to be saints. What does that mean? It means being called to become the people God created us to. The right version of me, you might say, not the one you actually get. Remember what St Paul said to the Christians in Ephesus: God chose us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. And we become holy the more we allow Jesus into our lives. The more we say no to ourselves, and yes to Jesus. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to act within us, that same Spirit that empowered the life of the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth. That quotation from Leon Bloy is very telling. It’s not just some sickly, pious, saccharine statement of piety. Neither is it about aspiring to a greatness that is beyond our reach. It is about becoming Christ-like in our own way. And my way will be different to yours, and yours to mine. It speaks of the deepest desire of our hearts for God and to ourselves: to become the you and me God wills us to be. The trouble is that we’re not very good at it. CS Lewis once said: "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures. We are far too easily pleased" (The Weight of Glory). What Jesus wants is for us to be saints. And the way we do this is to allow Jesus into our lives so that we can say, like St Paul, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Jesus dominated the lives of all the great saints. And remember the root of that word, dominate, comes from the latin word, Dominus, which means Lord. Jesus was the Lord of their lives. Every part of their lives. And allowing Christ to dominate their lives didn’t mean they lost who they were, like they were being absorbed into Christ and losing their individuality. Rather, by allowing Christ into their lives, they actually found themselves. Their real selves. It’s as if each and every part of their lives, their individual, unique, lives, has been energised with the power of Christ that allows them then to glow with Christ-light. The great teacher of the early church, St Irenaeus, likened the action of the Holy Spirit to the sun whose rays light and warm and fill everything and everyone it touches. This is the truth we see perhaps best lived out in St Paul. The arch pharisee and Christian hater, the persecutor and reviler of the early church had his life turned on its head by his encounter with the risen Christ. From that moment on, Paul knew there was a new of being human, of living human life, not based on laws but on the power of the Holy Spirit: God’s grace, God’s life, now at work within him. You and I are called to be saints. But that doesn’t mean being given a list of do’s and don’t’s and then told to get on with it (though the list of do’s and don’t’s is essential). It means opening our hearts and minds and lives to Jesus and letting him in. Letting him in so his light and life can drive out the darkness and death within us. Letting him in so that his gentle grace can change us into the people God destined us to be from before the foundation of the world. Letting his life into us, so that is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. May the tragedy of our lives not be that we fail to be saints. Rather, may being and becoming a saint be our glory. Amen.